How to Get Incredibly Helpful Feedback from Just About Anyone!

Feedback is very useful for telling us “where we are.” Without it, I couldn’t work with my clients. I wouldn’t know what the people around my client think about what he or she needs to change. Likewise, without feedback, we wouldn’t know if were getting better or worse. We all need feedback to see where we are, where we need to go, and to measure our progress along the way. And I have a foolproof method for securing it.

When I work with coaching clients, I always get confidential feedback from their coworkers at the beginning of the process. I enlist each person to help me out. I want them to assist, not sabotage, the change process. I do this by saying to them, “I’m going to be working with my client for the next year. I don’t get paid if she doesn’t get better. Better is not defined by me; it is not defined by her. It is defined by you and the other coworkers involved in the process.” I then present them with four requests. I ask them to commit to:

  1. Let go of the past.
  2. Tell the truth.
  3. Be supportive and helpful–not cynical or negative.
  4. Pick something to improve themselves, so everyone is focused on more “improving” than “judging.”

As you contemplate changing your behavior yourself, you will need to do this same thing with your colleagues. Pick about a dozen people with whom you’ve had professional contact–work friends, peers, colleagues–and ask them to agree to these four commitments. When they do, which they nearly always will, you are ready to begin soliciting feedback from them about yourself.

In my experience, there are a hundred wrong ways to ask for feedback and one right way. Most of us know the wrong ways. We ask people, “What do you think of me?” “How do you feel about me?” “What do you hate about me?” or “What do you like about me?” Think about your colleagues. How many of them are your friends? How many of them really want to express to you their “true” feelings about you, to you?

A better question (and in my opinion the only question that works) is, “How can I do better?” Variations based on circumstances are okay, such as “What can I do to be a better partner at home?” or “What can I do to be a better leader of the group?” You get the idea. Pure issue-free feedback that makes change possible has to a) solicit advice rather than criticism, b) be directed towards the future, and c) be couched in a way that suggests you are, in fact, going to try to do better.

Finally, when you get the answer, when someone gives you the gift of what you can do to be better, don’t respond with your opinion of their advice. It will just sound like denial, rationalization, and objection. Treat every piece of advice as a gift, a compliment, and simply say, “Thank you.” No one expects you to act on every piece of advice. Just act on advice that makes sense to you. The people around you will be thrilled!

Now I want to hear from you!

Do you solicit feedback? How do you go about it? What holds you back from asking for feedback? What holds you back from giving feedback? We all need honest, helpful, constructive feedback. It’s hard to find, so I’m counting on you to give me your ideas, reflections, and experiences with feedback. I look forward to hearing from you!

Triggers is a #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-seller! Order it at Amazon. See The Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog for more of this video series.